- The Silent Treatment Is Toxic Nonsense. Here’s How to Handle It
- Why the Silent Treatment Happens
- Why the Silent Treatment Is So Harmful
- How to Respond to the Silent Treatment: What to Say and How to Say It
- How to End the Silent Treatment for Good
- How to Deal With Silent Treatment in Marriage
- Why People Use Silent Treatment in Marriage
- I don’t want to discuss it further
- Drop mic
- You’re an Idiot, Shut up
- Get lost
- How to handle silent treatment with dignity
- What To Do When Your Spouse Gives You The Silent Treatment
- Process On Your Own
- Address it Carefully
- Things to Think About While Talking
- What if the Silent Treatment Continues?
- When is the Silent Treatment Abuse?
- Other helpful blogs:
The Silent Treatment Is Toxic Nonsense. Here’s How to Handle It
You don’t know what you did, but you know you did something — and your partner is pissed. The anger isn’t the problem. Rather, it’s the way they’re handling it.
Instead of communicating about your transgression, they’re not saying a thing. Maybe they’re stomping around or sighing heavily, but they certainly aren’t speaking. Ah, the silent treatment.
Now you’re walking on eggshells, hoping the ice will melt quickly and you two can get back to normal.
The silent treatment is a common game of emotional chicken that can be extremely debilitating to a marriage. Luckily, whether this is a rare thing in your relationship or a go-to defense mechanism, you can break through the invisible wall, address the real issue in the short term, and work together to make the silent treatment a thing of the past.
Why the Silent Treatment Happens
In general, the silent treatment “is a way to try and inflict emotional pain on someone as a consequence of feelings of anger or frustration,” explains relationship therapist Megan Harrison, LMFT. “Through withholding approval, they are non-verbally expressing that your actions and words are unacceptable.”
Someone may use the silent treatment if they are angry or overwhelmed and don’t know how to explain themselves in a healthy manner.
They might turn to the silent treatment because they’re conflict-averse and don’t want to get into big discussions, or it may simply be a tactic used to gain the upper hand by forcing the other person to try and make things right.
The silent treatment could be a learned behavior (perhaps a parent used it and they know no other way) or simply a maneuver they know works.
Regardless, the silent treatment is a petty, passive-aggressive tactic used in emotional warfare. It breaks every rule of healthy communication, which is why the silent treatment or “stonewalling” is listed as one of Dr. John Gottman’s Four Horsemen, a quartet of traits that often spell doom for a relationship.
Now, it should be pointed out that there’s a difference between the silent treatment and your partner saying they need some time to cool down after a fight.
The latter is perfectly fine if they explain their intentions and address the issue at hand once they’re in a calmer place. It’s the act of completely locking someone out that is the problem.
“They refuse to interact and become non-communicative and non-responsive,” says Elisabeth Gordon, MD, integrative sexual health psychiatrist and sex therapist.
Why the Silent Treatment Is So Harmful
The silent treatment is a harsh tactic. When you’re on the receiving end of the silent treatment, you may feel powerless, disrespected, invisible, frustrated, or angry — or you may cycle through all of these emotions.
“Many people feel powerless because we, as humans, are inherently social creatures.
Our brains are structured to recognize social inclusions because those signal safety and the ability to keep going,” Gordon explains.
In fact, the part of the brain that perceives social connection also perceives pain and threat. No wonder being stonewalled by a loved one hurts so much and makes us long to reconnect so we can feel safe again.
The silent treatment also “doesn’t create a situation where you can discuss and resolve the issue that started” the stonewalling, Gordon says. And any lack of communication is never positive since it’s essential in every relationship to be able to openly and honestly express your feelings.
Even worse, when taken to the extreme, the silent treatment can become a way to manipulate and control someone. So be mindful and notice if your partner gives you the silent treatment infrequently, does it on a more regular basis but is open to talking (perhaps after a few hours or a day), or if you think it’s becoming emotional abuse.
How to Respond to the Silent Treatment: What to Say and How to Say It
Harrison says that the best thing to do when your loved one won’t communicate (and may be giving you the death stare) is to not escalate things. “Don’t take it personally. Be calm and patient. Do not respond in anger, don’t be patronizing or condescending, and don’t beg your partner to respond,” she advises.
What you can do is respond to their silence. “Communicate about the silent treatment, stating what you observe by using ‘I’ statements,” Gordon says. For example, “I notice you’re shutting down and not responding to me.
” Then use more ‘I’ statements (because those don’t place blame on the other person) to explain how their silence makes you feel. Follow that up by gently explaining how this makes it harder to resolve the underlying issue.
Once you lay all of that out, Gordon says to propose some alternatives, such as a cooling-off period since emotions may be high right now. You could say something , “If you are too upset to talk now, fine, let’s not talk. But let’s set a time to reapproach this later.”
When you do talk about it, Gordon recommends giving your partner the floor. “Wait until they are done to speak; that gives them space to discuss what is bothering them,” she explains.
When it’s your turn, first thank them for talking and not engaging in a more toxic reaction. If they’re upset because of something you did, consider apologizing, which can help de-escalate the situation.
“Then try to have a discussion about both the resolution of [the] issue and, either then or later, about how to not get into that situation again,” Gordon says.
How to End the Silent Treatment for Good
If the silent treatment is a fairly common reaction from your partner, address that during this initial conversation. “Talk about how you would prefer if they didn’t use this, with an emphasis on why it’s damaging, how you feel, and how it doesn’t help resolve the situation,” Gordon recommends.
Bringing it up now can help prevent the silent treatment — or remedy it more quickly — in the future. If your spouse begins building a wall between the two of you, remind them of the conversation you had.
“Remember that time [fill in the blank] happened, and what we talked about?” Recall how, together, you worked through the issue and achieved some form of resolution and success, Gordon says. “That helps make it about the behavior, not the immediate situation at hand,” she adds.
For a softer approach, create a code word that brings to mind the time when you two worked things out or that makes you both laugh, Gordon says. Anytime your partner uses the silent treatment, say that word or phrase. It can help dispel some tension and nip the issue in the bud.
Of course, all of this is easier when you can both communicate without accusing and judging. So work on this if you need to.
Lastly, if your attempts to resolve the silent treatment don’t help, consider couples therapy. “It might be a learned behavior,” says Gordon. “Your partner doesn’t know other ways to engage and resolve conflict.” A professional can help with this. And if the silent treatment is part of a manipulative pattern, seek professional help for yourself so you can stay safe.
How to Deal With Silent Treatment in Marriage
Couples fight. It’s a fact of life.
When we get into a relationship, we hope that everything is perfect and we live happily ever after during marriage. But such a relationship exists only in books and movies.
In real life, there are a million things that couples fight about. It can range from something trivial the toilet seat to something big such as gambling away the mortgage money.
Some people use the silent treatment in marriage to deal with problems.
They use it to cut the argument short or as leverage. To figure out the mechanics behind silent treatment in marriage and how to react to it, let us first understand the motivations behind it.
Why People Use Silent Treatment in Marriage
Cruel as it may seem, not all silent treatment defense mechanisms are created equal.
corporal punishment, its application, severity, and motivation determine the morality of the act itself. That in itself is debatable, but that is another topic for another time.
Speaking of silent treatment in marriage, its application and motivations differ on a case to case basis, even when used by the same person.
Here are some reasons why some people use it to settle an argument.
I don’t want to discuss it further
One partner feels that there’s no point in continuing the conversation.
They believe that no constructive discussion will come either party’s mouths and only aggravate the situation. They feel their anger reaching its boiling point, and might say things they both could regret.
They are using the silent treatment as a way to cool off and step away from the situation. It is a way to protect the relationship, preventing a bigger and longer fight.
This silent treatment flavor means that one party has no longer anything else to say about the topic. The other party has to either deal with it or do what they want and suffer the consequences.
This applies when the couple is discussing a particular decision, and one partner has already given their stand.
Listening to the other point of view is ignored. Un other versions of silent treatments, this is an ultimatum. One partner has communicated their side, even if it was done vaguely or using reverse psychology.
You’re an Idiot, Shut up
This is also an ultimatum.
It is a combination of the first two. This happens when one party wants to walk away and stay away from the other party before things get hand.
This is a form of an argument from silence. The other party tries to figure out what the other party means, but the silent treatment partner assumes that they should already know, and if they don’t, they will suffer further consequences.
Silent treatment in marriage is a failure to communicate.
This kind is especially true. One is left with an open-ended question, while the other assumes that they should already know the right answer -or else.
Figuring out how to stop the silent treatment and re-establish a constructive conversation ends typically with nonsensical responses such as “You should already know.”
This is the worst kind of silent treatment. It means the other party does not even care what you say, and you don’t even have the right to know what they think.
It is silent treatment abuse designed to show that their partner is not worth their time and effort. It is no different than ignoring hater comments on social media.
However, to your spouse, silent treatment in marriage is depressing and a deliberate attempt to cause psychological and emotional harm.
It is hard to figure out how to respond to the silent treatment in this case.
In most cases, the approach is to use a counter-silent treatment, and the marriage ends up without communication and trust. That is only one step away from divorce.
How to handle silent treatment with dignity
Reacting positively to silent treatment emotional abuse requires patience
Responding to silent treatment in marriage with your own version could collapse the relationship foundations. However, a temporary step off to allow your partner to cool down is usually the best solution.
This is best if your partner is only using the silent treatment to cool off and not as a weapon against you.
Giving your partner a night or two to cool off can do a lot to save your relationship. You can also take the time to calm down yourself. Do not commit any form of infidelity, emotional infidelity included, during this time. Do not get drunk or any sort of substance abuse.
Do something constructive such as going about your day
If you are thinking about how to win against the silent treatment, the best way is to give your partner space while preventing them from thinking that their psychological attack is working.
Silent treatment emotional abuse is a form of attack. It is subtle, but it is designed to create leverage by confusing the hearts and minds of their opponent/spouse.
The psychological effects of the silent treatment, if done with malice, is about control.
It is a purposeful act to create a feeling of helplessness, paranoia, dependency, loss, and loneliness. It could potentially lead to anxiety and clinical depression. Silent treatment in marriage is not fair, but even married adults sometimes act children.
If you want to know how to respond to silent treatment in relationships, well, the best way is not to respond to it at all. “Ignore the silence,” Go about your day, don’t do more or less than what you would usually do.
If your partner is only cooling off, the problem will solve itself
If your partner is doing it with malice, then it would force them to try other means. But it would not be right to stay in a relationship with that kind of person, but maybe, just maybe, things will change.
Silent treatment in marriage can be summed up in two.
Your partner is trying to prevent a big fight or want to escalate it into a big one. Always assume the first. Get their way and live your life. Nothing good will come out by overthinking it.
What To Do When Your Spouse Gives You The Silent Treatment
When your spouse gives you the silent treatment, it can be frustrating, painful, and confusing. It happens when one spouse refuses to communicate, ignores, withdraws from, or totally avoids their partner.
It may not mean there’s absolute silence. You might still talk about daily tasks who’s picking up the kids, who’s handling laundry, or dinner.
The silent treatment shows that one person is unwilling to address an issue or connect in any meaningful way.
If you’re getting the silent treatment, what do you do?
Process On Your Own
What triggered the silent treatment? When did it start, and what were you discussing? Did something happen that may have been viewed negatively? You may not even know, but thinking about it can help you understand your partner’s perspective.
What’s the goal? Is my spouse trying to punish me, hoping I’ll feel the pain they feel? Are they withdrawing so they can process their own thoughts and emotions? Are they trying to protect themselves?
Processing can help you listen to and better understand yourself and your spouse, but try not to let it cause you to look down on your spouse.
Address it Carefully
Start with Compassion. Often, we use silence when we don’t have or can’t use healthy conflict resolution skills to deal with issues.
Is the silent treatment a healthy approach? No. Especially when it’s used to control or manipulate. It can be abusive. (More on this later.)
Provided this situation is not an abusive use of the silent treatment, remember, this is your spouse — and something sparked the treatment. This doesn’t mean you justify or excuse the behavior. It’s purely recognizing that something caused your spouse emotional pain. And different people respond to pain in different ways.
Speak directly to the issue. You might say something , “I know you haven’t been talking to me lately. I’d to discuss what started this. Can we talk?”
Never forget, your body language and tone of voice communicate 93% of your message to your spouse. Getting the words right isn’t as important as having a healthy attitude toward your spouse.
Be Willing to Listen and Understand. When your spouse is ready to talk, put your energy into understanding their thoughts and emotions first. Some people give the silent treatment because they feel unheard. Let your spouse know you want to understand their thoughts, feelings, and their desires.
Model Healthy Skills to Resolve issues. You can’t change your spouse, but you can control yourself. Demonstrating respect, openness, and transparency while working together to resolve conflict can paint a picture of the kind of communication many people crave.
Things to Think About While Talking
Don’t play the blame game. Focus on the ultimate goal: resolving the issue in a healthy way. Using lots of “I” statements and as few “You” statements as possible can keep you from blaming each other and getting distracted.
Own your contributions. Frame it this way in your head. “I understand that I hurt you when I did or said _______.” This focuses on the pain without justifying their response to the hurt. And when appropriate, apologize for the pain you triggered.
Be self-aware of your emotions. Your spouse may express a lot of pent-up emotions. They may flood you with more than you were expecting, but try to keep your emotions from controlling you. Be aware of your feelings as they share. At an appropriate time in the conversation, share. Remember, though, one of the reasons for the silent treatment could be they don’t feel heard.
What if the Silent Treatment Continues?
Know what you can and can’t control. You can’t control how your spouse responds to emotional hurt. But you can control how you respond. You can gently let them know you’re ready to talk when they are. And you can choose to acknowledge the issue without letting it control you.
Don’t badger or nag.You can’t force someone else to talk. Don’t try.
Seek help. If you need to talk to a trusted friend or seek a counselor for your own mental health, it’s worth the effort. If you don’t go together, going alone can be helpful.
When is the Silent Treatment Abuse?
Consistently using silence to control someone can be abuse. Healthline lists the following signs to look for:
- It’s a frequent occurrence and is lasting for longer periods.
- It’s coming from a place of punishment, not a need to cool off or regroup.
- It only ends when you apologize, plead, or give in to demands.
- You’ve changed your behavior to avoid getting the silent treatment.
I don’t recommend the silent treatment as a strategy for solving marriage problems. But a good starting point is to talk with your spouse about how you can resolve conflict in healthy ways. Your spouse may feel you haven’t heard other attempts to solve problems, and understanding that may help you find better solutions together.
It may be something as simple as asking for a timeout and agreeing to discuss later. Or it may take some effort for them to feel you’re an emotionally safe person to talk to. Whatever the case, learning to be compassionate without excusing the behavior may be the trick to eliminating the silent treatment in your relationship.
Other helpful blogs:
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse.
At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at:1−800−799−7233.
For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***
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